Six on Saturday: Making Whole

Moss Garden


We had our first frost of the season this week, and I’ve been occupied with bringing in those pots of tender plants that we will keep through the winter, and settling those that can remain outdoors into protected spots.  My partner was helping me (encouraging me, prodding me, motivating me to keep going, quite honestly) when he went to move our little potted Japanese Maple.  We heard the cracking and crunch as the pot fell apart in his hands. Oh well, terra-cotta pots don’t last forever, do they?  And this one has spent a few winters outdoors on our deck, holding this little tree as it grows.


I love Japanese maples, and love the aesthetic of potted ones on the deck mixed among our ferns and flowering summer plants.  They can remain outdoors year round, and allow one to appreciate the seasons from budding to leaf drop up close. The tree is fine.


The pot is a bit mangled, but I had been looking for a pot to create a winter moss garden, anyway.  I left the whole thing alone in a plastic disk for a few days, until I remembered an identical pot that I’d just emptied days ago.  The Colocasia came indoors in a plastic dish for the winter, and so there was a pot open and available to receive the maple tree.


It was a sorry looking mess after the pot broke, but the tree was fine for a few days while I decided what to do.


If you’ve been shopping for pots recently, you know that pickings are very slim in November.  I’ve been looking for a pot for my moss garden for a while.  I couldn’t find what I wanted at a reasonable price.  I even ordered a blue Fiestaware bowl to plant up, and then decided to keep the bowl in the kitchen once it arrived.  It was too pretty, if that is possible…. it was a new shade of blue that we didn’t yet have. So this little broken terra-cotta bowl was clearly a gift from the universe showing me how to proceed.


The garden at Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.


As you probably know, moss doesn’t have any roots.  It has little structures that anchor it to the ground, but they don’t absorb water from the soil as roots do for vascular plants.  Each cell of the moss plant is on its own for hydration.  But moisture can travel from cell to cell.  That is why moss loves humidity, standing water and lots of rain.


We’ve had such a wet year that moss is growing in places in the garden it hasn’t in the past.  Which is fine, because I really love moss.


To establish a moss garden, you don’t need very good soil.  As you may have noticed, moss can grow on rocks, bricks, gravel, bark, ceramics, concrete and so many other surfaces that aren’t soil.  So you don’t need good soil or deep soil to establish a moss garden.  But because I have other plants in this one, I am recycling some pretty good soil left over as I broke down some of last summer’s plantings.


It is important to pack the soil down fairly firmly, though, and then to press the moss firmly onto the soil.  If laying moss outdoors into an area of the garden, some gardeners walk over the moss a few times to help it adhere to its new spot.  So press down firmly so the moss is in good contact with the soil. But I’m ahead of myself, here.


I had a few little bulbs left over from other projects, and a clump of dwarf Mondo grass to add to this planting.  The bulbs go in first, to a depth equal to three times their height.  If you can’t tell which end is which, plant them on their side.  The bulb’s roots will grow downwards and right the bulb as the stem begins to grow upward in the spring.  Firm the soil over the bulbs before covering it with freshly lifted moss.


I was able to divide my plug of Mondo grass into several divisions.  I replanted half of the plug into a nursery pot to grow on, and used these tiny divisions for the moss garden.  Have a blade nearby when dividing Mondo grass, as there comes a point where you often have to cut the sections.  As long as each section has roots, they will continue to grow on.



I planted the Mondo grass along the lower, broken edge of the pot, to help stabilize the soil in the planting.  After planting the grass, mulch around it with moss.  Then I built terraces into the sloping potting soil with pieces of the broken pot, and used different varieties of moss in the different sections to give some interesting texture.


Kept shaded and moist, moss can grow indefinitely in a planting like this.  Best of all is when the moss produces spores and those spores colonize the planting themselves, even growing on the pot.  That happens if the moss is very happy in the spot you select for it.


The main enemies of a potted moss garden are those creatures who’d like to have some of the moss for themselves.  Sometimes birds pinch a bit for their nests, or squirrels toss it aside in their attempts to bury or retrieve nuts, or worse, dig your tasty bulbs.  I used those little early Crocus known as ‘Tommies,’ which aren’t tasty to squirrels.  With most bulbs, it is smart to spray them with a bit of animal repellent before you plant them.  A squirt to the whole pot once finished is good insurance, too.


Here is our little Japanese Maple snugly tucked into a new pot. I had some scraps of moss left over, and so added them as mulch under the tree.  I’ll find some fine gravel to finish dressing the soil.


This little planting really costs nothing out of hand.  I recycled a broken pot, re-purposed used potting soil, used up the last few bulbs left from a pack, and lifted the moss from my own garden.  It should remain a lovely spot of green out in the garden, all winter long, with minimal care.  It probably won’t even need watering.  Only if we have a stretch of warm, dry weather will I need to do anything for it, at all.


If I had been fortunate enough to find a little evergreen fern in the yard, like an Ebony Spleenwort, it would have gone in the pot, too, growing up through the moss.  Moss makes a lovely background for spring bulbs, too. A rock or two, or a quartz crystal, finishes off the arrangement. It is always satisfying to take broken bits and leftover bits and find interesting ways to use them.  Now, as we change the seasons, is a good time for clearing away the old and making room for something fresh and new.  Like a breath of fresh air, it keeps us going.



Woodland Gnome 2020


This moss garden will live and grow in the rock garden at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.


And Then It Got Complicated….


May 20, 2014 Garden 006

An inspiration, when it first flits into one’s mind, is beautifully simple.  In its purist form, the idea is more powerful than the forces which will conspire to prevent its materialization.

At least in my experience….

A vivid imagination is both gift and curse; tool and trap.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 025

A gardener’s winter dreams of pots and beds and borders sometimes get translated into actuality; sometimes not.  Rarely do they grow as first imagined.

There is the small matter of reality standing between the vision and its accomplishment.

May 20, 2014 Garden 001

My original idea was quite simple:  I saw a raised bed growing at the base of a young Dogwood tree.

The tree, badly damaged when our trees fell last summer, would become the center point of a cool and shady four season garden in the edge of our forest near the street.

Populated with Cinnamon Fern and Helebores, this perennial bed would be impervious to deer, low maintenance, and provide winter blooms.

Simple, right?

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 048

When imagining what to use  to build the raised bed, I decided to use Hypertufa troughs.  A gorgeous cardboard box shipped from Plant Delights became the mold for long window box shaped planters.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 049

The first two un-molded perfectly and went to the drying shelves.  Then the third cracked as I turned it out of the box.

Heavy, and not quite dry enough, I realized I had rushed it; and made a patch.  After another week in the mold, I gingerly turned it out, and the patch held.

A second very large trough also cracked.  I must not have had the mix quite right that day.


This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch.  Can you spot the patch on the pot's rim?

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch. Can you spot the patch on the pot’s rim?  A chunk of another broken trough, which couldn’t be repaired, rests nearby.

I wasn’t as lucky with that attempt to “fix it,” and it ended up in a dozen jagged pieces tucked into a shadowy corner of the basement.  It gets complicated…

That temporarily halted work on the new raised bed.  With only two of the four planned troughs ready to use, I wasn’t ready to move forward.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.  The apparently empty pot is filled with perennial hardy Begonia, which will emerge by early June.

And I didn’t have time by then to start the fourth trough.

But, I already had three potted Helebores and three Lady Ferns languishing in holding areas, ready to sink their roots into a permanent spot in the garden.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 006

Lady Ferns, you ask?  Wasn’t the original idea to grow large, stately Cinnamon Ferns in this bed?  Well, it got complicated…

On one shopping expedition after another this spring, my search for Cinnamon Ferns was in vain.

Yes, Plant Delights had them, but I wanted to purchase them locally.  I’ve learned my lesson waiting for bare root ferns from the big box stores to sprout, and I was hoping to score them in the tiny pots Homestead Garden Center offered all last season.  But, no tiny pots appeared…

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the peremiter of this new raised bed.  Broken pot pieces help form a low "wall" to hold soil behind them.

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the perimeter of this new raised bed. Broken pot pieces help form a low “wall” to hold soil behind them.

It gets complicated. 

Our long, cold spring made things very difficult for the growers this year, and many items came late, in short supply, or not at all.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 031

So during my tour of Forest Lane Botanicals, I purchased three beautiful Lady Ferns to use in the garden… just before that third trough broke.  And they’ve been sitting ever since….

With the art festival completed over the weekend, it was decided that today I would work with the universe to bring this new raised bed into reality.

One way or another, something would be built today.

An experimental "stepping stone" holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

An experimental “stepping stone” holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

Armed with three potted Helebores, three Lady Ferns, two Autumn Brilliance Ferns, four bags of compost, more Caladiums than I care to admit to having, an almost murdered Begonia which got too dry last week and lost its leaves, a tray full of broken Hypertufa trough pieces, some old plastic pots, and some 6″ clay pots left from the weekend- I set to work.

Some might call this a scrounger’s garden.  I see it as a fortuitous opportunity for some serious recycling.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 030

With three now completed troughs, already planted in Caladiums,   the outline of the new raised bed was already sketched in.

A larger free-form  hypertufa trough, again broken in unmolding but patched, joined the group two weeks ago when I decided not to offer the  patched pot for sale.  It also holds Caladiums.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 005

With the fourth trough a minimum of two weeks away, if I cast it today; I decided to border the bed with other materials- if only temporarily.

So a pile of new 6″ terra cotta pots, scored at the Re-store for a children’s art project, got filled with soil, planted with Begonia semperflorens, and pressed into service as a border.

A few old plastic pots, filled and planted up, helped plug the gaps.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Large pieces of the broken hypertufa and a few experimental stepping stones work to camouflage this motley mix of bordering materials.

Borders in place, compost poured in and smoothed, it was finally time to plant.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 032

The bed is far from completed.  That fourth trough will materialize over the next few weeks to complete the outline.

I don’t have much faith in small terra cotta pots on our hottest summer days.  They dry too quickly.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

So I’ll replace as many of the small pots as I can with hypertufa planters, which keep roots cool, moist, and happy even in the heat of summer.

I found a 4″ Cinnamon Fern this afternoon, finally, and planted it among the Lady Ferns.

Over the next few days I’ll transplant some Hellebores seedlings from other beds, add a few more Caladiums, and possibly even plant some Spikemoss, a new favorite, as a frilly ground cover.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 002

Time, the essential ingredient in gardening, will transform this motley conglomeration of bits and pieces into a beautiful garden within a few weeks.

Once the plants settle in and begin weaving themselves together, it will take on a life and vision of its own.

Gardens, like people, evolve in their own time from one form to the next.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

We might plant a seed, push a cutting into the soil, or tuck a transplant into a new bed.  But that is only a gesture.  It is the concrete expression of a wish.

Magic happens after we water in our intention and wander away. 

As the roots take hold, and the plant unfolds itself in new growth, something entirely new evolves.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

A community comes together as roots intertwine in the soil.

Vines stretch, branches form.  Flowers open.  Our wish takes on a life of its own.

It gets very complicated, but also very beautiful.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 019

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014




Recycling A Broken Mug

November 7 2013 follow up 003

A moment of clumsiness this morning with the tea kettle, and one of my favorite mugs lay broken in the sink.  November 7 2013 001We purchased two matching mugs from the potter in Manteo, NC, quite a few years ago.  This deep burgundy glaze is a bit unusual and hard to find, and we always enjoyed using these lovely mugs.  Too beautiful to throw away, I salvaged all but one of the pieces of the broken mug and took them back to my work table.

If it is no longer good for drinking, at least it will serve as a lovely planter.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

Succulents are very forgiving plants, easy to grow, undemanding, and will survive in this little mug.  I took cuttings of a rangy blue chalk sticks plant, Kleinia mandraliscae,  and of some Echeveria growing in pots on the front porch.  I had a few sprigs of jade plant, Crassula ovata, already lying around, waiting for a new home.  Succulents appreciate bright, indirect light, but don’t need or want very much water.  They root easily from bits and pieces, and grow fairly slowly.  This makes them excellent candidates for tiny arrangements in unusual containers.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

After gluing the mug back together and allowing it to dry, I laid a foundation of several small stones in the bottom of the cup and covered them with a mixture of sand and gravel.  Since the mug has no drainage holes, the rocks and sand will provide a small reservoir, below the roots, where water can drain.  It will also allow the soil to soak in water as needed between waterings.

Next came potting soil. I could have mixed in a bit of sand, but I have better luck with using the same potting mix I use for pots and baskets.  I filled the mug to within 1/4 or so of the rim, and topped off the soil with more clean sand and gravel.  This will prevent the succulent leaves from resting directly on damp soil.

Once the mug was prepared, I simply stuck the stems of my cuttings into the soil in a pleasing arrangement, gave a light spritz of water from the sink sprayer to settle everything in, and set the mug where it will get bright light.

The cuttings will take a few weeks to root, but will grow happily in the mug all winter.  When they appear to be outgrowing the mug, in a year or so, they can be potted up to another container and more cuttings can take their place in the mug.  It has a new purpose in life, and will continue to be a treasured part of ours.

November 7 2013 follow up 004

Photos by Woodland Gnome

Thoughts on recycling:

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly.November 7 2013 017

Clement of Alexandria

Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.

R. Buckminster Fuller

The paradox of life lies exactly in this: its resources are finite, but it itself is endless. Such a contradictory state of affairs is feasible only because the resources accessible to life can be used over and over again.” November 7 2013 018

I.I. Gitelson, Manmade Closed Ecological Systems

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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